There are separate bicycle roads; these are NO WALKWAYS. On the other hand, Bikes will be everywhere on the walkways.
If you rent a bicycle be sure to include at least an additional heavy chain lock. And when you want to park at the Centraal Station, obey the parking rules!
I'm a local and I ride my bike daily through the Amsterdam City Center, and I have some tips for tourists and out-of-towners:
A) Unlike most cities, Amsterdam has dedicated bicycle paths that are easily identifiable by the bicycle painted on the road surface. The bicycle paths are for cyclists only! Walking on the bicycle paths marks you instantly as a [stupid] tourist.
B) Amsterdam has a lot of one-way streets, but most of them are only one-way for cars [and sometimes motorcycles], which means that you still have to look BOTH ways when crossing a one-way street in Amsterdam, because bicycles can come from BOTH sides.
C) Amsterdam has laws that protect the weaker traffic participants, so in an accident between a motorized vehicle and a bicycle, the motorized vehicle gets all the blame, unless they can proof that the cyclist disregarded all the rules. This makes driving a vehicle in Amsterdam incredibly risky, because a bicycle can come from any direction and you'll be blamed for any accidents, even when they're not your fault. By the way, a testimony by your passengers is often regarded immaterial by the police.
D) If you're staying in Amsterdam for several days, or if you visit Amsterdam regularly, don't rent a bike. Yellowbikes yellow frames and MacBikes red frames immediately mark you as a tourist. Instead, go to a bicycle shop and ask for a secondhand bicycle. There are loads for sale, ranging from 25-150 euros, depending on the type [regular, ATB, racing] and amount of gears. Don't choose a bicycle with more than three gears - Amsterdam is mostly flat, so you won't need more than three to cruise comfortably. Don't buy a bicycle on the street, they're most likely stolen and if you get caught you're not only perpetuating bicycle theft, but the bike will be impounded by the police and you will get a steep fine.
E) If you ride a bicycle in Amsterdam, keep to the right. Don't weave all over the road like a drunken monkey. If you want to gawk at something, don't do it while riding. And get yourself a heavy padlock and a length of industrial cable so you can lock your bike to lampposts and bridge railings. Make sure your cable never (accidentally) ties up another bicycle, because the police will cut your chain/cable and impound your bicycle.
F) Don't ride on the sidewalks. Yes, I know you will see some cyclists ride the sidewalk, but it is prohibited and the police will fine you if they catch you. To talk your way out of a ticket, you have to speak fluent Dutch and be very persuasive. So keep to the bicycle paths, or if they are absent, keep to the utmost right on the main roads.
G) Be extremely wary of mopeds! Most mopeds and scooters ride as irresponsible as cyclists, only faster. And since they're heavier than a bike, the crashes often result in more damage.
Amsterdam is full of bicycles. I have never seen so many bicycles in my life. Cycle riders are dangerous too. Make sure you do not stand on a cycle way. I learn't the hard way lol.
Also, it seems that if you do ride a cycle, make sure you take the most crappiest one into town because locking it up will not stop the theives from pinching the parts they like.
There are many cyclists in Amsterdam and most have a very special way of cicling. They only advice to pedestrian ringing the bell and expect everyone to deviate from its path, but rarely stop. Always try to walk on the sidewalk for pedestrians and pay attention when crossing the streets as the trams and cyclists seem to come from everywhere.
Hay muchos ciclistas en Ámsterdam y la mayoría tienen una forma muy especial de andar. Ellos únicamente se anuncian con sus campanas y esperan que todos se aparten de su camino, pero pocas veces se detienen. Procura siempre caminar en la acera para peatones y presta mucha atención al cruzar las calles pues los tranvías y ciclistas parecen venir de todos lados.
Always aware of bikers while you walk, don't walk on their path. Especially when you cross the streets look both sides. So many bikes and some don't respect to the signals... I didn't bike there but in my opinion biking is a little bit hectic looking... If you are not an experienced biker i do not recommend.
I think I've mentioned it already on the "Things To Do" but am reiterating here again. I almost got hit by a bicycle, no, bicycles. I was crossing the street and I didn't know that the lane just along the side of the road is dedicated for bicycle -- can't blame - my first time in the city!
So be careful in crossing the road, look at your left and right and listen to the buzzing of bicycles, two things, either you get hit or if you'll endure some swearing (shouting with bad words or the famous f**k-off!).
Remember --- there are pedestrian lanes and there are bicycle lanes.
There is a lot of traffic in Amsterdam with cars and scooters zipping round corners all the time. But the more dangerous hazard are the bicycles! There are bike lanes everywhere and they are well used. You might think you've got across a street safely but look down, if you're in a bike lane, marked with pinkish red paint/pavement, get out of there quick! The bikers seem to come up on you so quickly and often don't ring their warning bells until they're almost on top of you. Of course you don't hear them coming since there's no engine or motor. You really do have to be careful!
When we decided to go to see Amsterdam, we wanted to explore it by bicycles. As we were traveling around Europe, not just Netherlands, we took our own.....well. Amsterdam is perfect place for cycling, but we didn't think about some extra precausions. And so my bicycle was stolen. How is it possible in a city where everyone has one??? It was a matter of few minutes, we have fastened bicycles together with quite thick lock, but it wasn't enough. As we've checked later every bicycle in town was fastened with two locks in a back and front wheel, even the worst ones.... We talked with others and we found out that it is usually the Junkies that steal cycles to get money for drugs. Bicycles are stolen everyday, but relevantly you can easily buy a new one, as they say.....So watch your bike while you are visiting Amsterdam.
In Holland roads bikes have the right on everybody and everything, usually they run on dedicated places at the side of roads, but it can happen that you find them on normal roads, specially in city center, so pay attention and watch carefully.
You can see the bicyccles that are coming toward you. It is the ones that are behind you that you forget you need to share the space that can ruin your day when hit. Many, many bikes traverse around and are a common day lifestyle. There are marked lanes for the bikes to use and stay off of them. They have the right to bump you out. On the other hand, some are going so fast, they must scare themselves, let alone me when passing by. If some unexpected event occurs, they could not react fast enough to deter.
Amsterdam is a very flat, compact city so cycling is a very popuular mode of transport, much more so than in most other cities.
The cyclists have right of way and, of course, their vehicles are silent - so they can come upon you without any warning.
Be aware at all times when walking that you must be alert for the cyclists. An accident will ruin your holiday.
When wandering around the streets, remember that there are 3 lanes: Vehicles, Pedesrians, AND cycles. Its easy to wander into the cycle lane, so spacious, but you'll get off pretty quickly too, cyclists won't make to much of an effort to get out of your way!
This is a guote from my guidebook about Amsterdam. I think I read it on the plane to Holland and it comes from the part about using bicycles: 'It is necessary ALWAYS to put a pedlock on the bike. Theft is a real plague in Amsterdam. You can often see parts of bicycles attached with chains to metal fences or poles...' The picture I present here could be a perfect illustration to this 'word of warning', as it was titled in the guidebook.
Further to my previous entry re bicycles. Don't stand in their way expecting them to try and avoid you. The local tradition is for pedestrians to get out of the way and allow the bike to make progress. I come from the UK where they aren't even allowed on to the pavement and it came as a complete shock to me. I spent the first couple of hours hot under the collar thinking that they had all taken some sort of contract out on my life. It wasn't until a near death experience that one of the riders explained the local practise. Take care!!
Amsterdam is a pretty safe place - bicycle theft is the main crime (bad enough, but not a particular concern to most visitors). Take normal care with regard to your valuables, as you would in any major city in the world, and you'll be fine.
The Red Light District is certainly no less safe than other places in Amsterdam: it is in the sex industry's interest to make sure tourists don't go home with a nasty experience. Nevertheless, if you're a real prude or a very nervous type, why go there ? there is so much else to see and do.
Only soft drugs are legal. Usage of harder stuff in itself will not be prosecuted, but the trade around it (the supply side) is definitely illegal.